Nel's New Day

July 31, 2015

Travesties in Friday News Dump

The last day of the traditional work day is known in the media as “Trash Day,” according to the classic TV series “West Wing” description of the Friday news dump. The tactic is to “dump” bad news or documents on that day so that media scrutiny would be minimized. Here are some of the Friday dump day travesties:

 

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was last Tuesday: July 28, 2015, is the day when black women caught up with the salary that white men made in 2015. In other words, black women had to work 575 days to match the pay that men made in 365 days. Black women make 64 percent of white men, but Native American women salaries are far worse—at 59 percent of white men’s salaries.

What Voting Problems?! A Wichita State University mathematician asked for Kansas voting machines to be audited because of suspicious patterns in electronic returns, but government officials don’t want anyone to know about its problems. When Beth Clarkson, chief statistician for WSU’s National Institution for Aviation Research, made calculations after last November’s election, she found a “statistically significant” pattern in which the percentage of GOP votes increase according to how big the precinct is, even where other demographics don’t agree. She said that this anomaly happens across the country. Forced to file a lawsuit against state Secretary of State Chris Kobach for documentation, she still hasn’t been able to get the information.

Walker Rides High on Hypocrisy. In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, presidential candidate and Wisconsin’s GOP governor, Scott Walker, wrote, “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” His reference was to how Hillary Clinton spent time in meetings with union bosses, who he calls “big-labor special interests,” as she will “shun everyday” people. Walker is headed to a luxury hotel in Southern California with other GOP presidential candidates—Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—to attend the Koch brothers annual summer conference for Freedom Partners with 450 of the wealthiest donors on the far-right.

An Environmental Award for Rick Scott Is a Joke. The governor has  one of the worst environmental records in the history of Florida—and that’s saying something—and banned state employees from saying “climate change.” He decimated funding for important departments and projects while appointing developers and land use lawyers to their boards. They gave employees bonuses for speeding up permit approval and suspended Connie Bersok who refused to violate state law by approving development in the state’s wetlands. Chair of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida giving Scott an award for his “conservation work” is Rodney Barreto—wealthy businessman, lobbyist, chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee, and Jeb Bush appointee.

McConnell Shows Game Plan for 2017: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to use reconciliation to bypass the 60 votes necessary to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of reconciliation is reducing the deficit, and repealing the ACA would increase the deficit. The far-right Heritage Action group suggests replacing an official score of a repeal with a GOP invented score.

GOP Women Posted Graphic Illustration of Lynching on Facebook. The official Facebook page of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women briefly showed an image of a lynched black man until complaints led to its withdrawal. The text read, “The KKK was formed by the Democrats to keep control over black Americans. The Democrats of today just traded ropes for welfare.” In 2013, over 40 percent of food stamp recipients were white. The number of food stamp beneficiaries who are black has declined every year from 2001 through 2010; in 2013, only one-fourth of the recipients were black. Even if more beneficiaries were black, there is no excuse for using either the illustration or the text.

Pro-Israel, Anti-Iran Agreement Organization Pays to Take Democrat Senators to Israel on a Propaganda Tour: Lobby group AIPAC led the United States into a war with Iraq, and now it wants the United States to start a war with Iran. That’s why they are sending 40 members of Congress, several of them Democrats, to Israel this coming month to listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explain why they should vote with him instead of the President of the United States. Legislators prefer to meet with Netanyahu rather than their own constituents. AIPAC is spending at least $50 million to persuade people to vote against the Iran agreement.

Super PAC Carly for America Is Coordinating with Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina: The Supreme Court ruling allowing almost unlimited money in donations to political candidates through super PACS also mandated no communication between the organizations and the individual campaign efforts of political candidates. Yet the super PAC for Fiorina, confusingly called “Carly for America,” has invited its supporters to join a conference call with the candidate Carly Fiorina while including the necessary legal notice that Carly for America “is an independent expenditure committee and not authorized or coordinated with any federal candidate or candidate’s committee.” The super PAC also performs candidate campaign functions such as managing rapid response to press questions, rolling out endorsements of the candidate, funding grassroots organizing, and organizing advance work for Fiorina’s appearances. Fiorina isn’t alone in crossing the line: presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered his anti-Donald Trump speech at a July 22 event hosted by his super PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) Lecture Nuclear Physicist on Nuclear Weapons. Last week, Cruz and Johnson accused Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of knowing less that they did about Iran’s possible nuclear weapons and the threat of an imaginary Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to take out the nation’s electronic grid. First, the senators accused Moniz of not knowing what an EMP was because he had said he did not know the 2008 Congressional report recommendations. Cruz claimed to be “stunned” at what he considered Moniz’s ignorance about the subject. Then he refused to allow the nuclear physicist, longtime MIT professor, and holder of a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford to answer a question before accusing him of “refusing to answer the question.” Far-right articles claim that the EMP could easily leave “9 out of 10 Americans dead,”but the Federation of American Scientists stated that this would require a “large device” detonated about 300 miles above Wichita at the altitude of the International Space Station.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, Appointed Matthew Brown to the State Department of Education: The new appointee is a fundamentalist Christian who hates the public school system and has sworn that his children will never attend public school. Bentley said, “Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position.” His perspective is to starve the public education system through vouchers and charter schools, which Bentley strongly supports through taking $30 million from public schools.

Medicare Turned 50 Yesterday: That’s the good news. The travesty is the GOP attempts to eliminate health care for the elderly and disabled. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is leading the charge to”figure out a way to phase out this program for [younger people] and move to a new system that allows them to have something.” Backlash led a Bush spokesman to say that Bush wanted only modest reforms. Conservatives say they want to shift the current “defined benefit” program providing specific protections and levels of financial security to a “defined contribution” that distributes money according to a pre-determined formula and require seniors to shop for coverage. What they really want is to end Medicare’s guaranteed health care.

Cruz Tells Code Pink That “Truth Matters” Before He Lies: After pointing out the importance of truth, Cruz said that both Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani “explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it.” Code Pink’s co-founder Medea Benjamin said, “That is absolutely false.” Benjamin speaks the truth, but Cruz told Benjamin not to interrupt him. Conservatives failed to report the statements but said that Cruz “crushed” Code Pink. [Insight into Cruz: one of his favorite superheroes is Rorschach, the mentally unstable killer in Alan Moore’s Watchman who lives by his own moral code and exacts severe—maybe psychotic—punishment for anyone who violates it.]

pigs flyTexas Displays Judicial ActivismAfter anti-LGBT activists couldn’t get the 17,000 signatures required to put Houston’s anti-discrimination measures to a vote, the Texas Supreme Court suspended the ordinance, ruling that it either be repealed or put before voters. The court couldn’t do this legally, but it made the ruling. Do conservatives find this judicial activism—which they profess to hate? Will they object? Do pigs fly?

Congress Passes Short-term Highway Funding Bill: The Senate has passed a funding bill to continue the Highway Trust Fund for six years but pays for only three, providing $45 billion spread out for the six years over the gasoline tax. They not only refused to increase the gas tax to levels of 20 years ago but also could not work anything out with the House, that passed only a three-month extension of the funding. The Senate made a bipartisan refusal with 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it. Great comment from Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden:

“I said to a friend this morning with apologies to the elephants: When the elephants lock tusks, it’s never dull.”

States cannot possibly plan for major transportation projects and prolong maintenance on dangerously damaged roads and bridges with short-term fixes, and this is the 34th “fix” since 2009—an average of five each year. After the recess, the two congressional chambers will have to tackle the problem again. And the Iran deal. And the appropriations bill. And Planned Parenthood. And anything else that has nothing to do with jobs. And the infrastructure suffers because Congress hands out the money in dribbles and drabs.

 

August 2, 2014

Congress Passes a Few Bills, Leaves Town

Breaking News! Congress passed a bill! Just before Congressional legislators roared off to the airports to get out of Washington, they actually passed a VA bill after stalling for almost six month. The $16.3 billion plan to change health policies for veterans passed the Senate by 91-3 last Thursday. The bill had passed the House by 420-5 the day before. Serving almost nine million veterans at 1,700 locations, the VA runs the nation’s largest integrated health care system. Each day, 200,000 beneficiaries seek care at its hospitals and clinics.

Provisions included expansion of veterans’ access to private health care, more VA medical staff, and greater power for the Secretary to fire executives. New doctors, nurses, and other VA medical staff will take $5 billion, and leases for 27 new medical centers in 18 states and Puerto Rico will cost $1.27 billion. Over $10 billion goes to treatment from private providers for veterans who cannot get a VA appointment within 30 days of a request or who live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility.

GOP Sens. Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), and Jeff Sessions (AL) voted against the bill as did five Republicans in the House: Rick Crawford (AR), Walter Jones (NC), Jack Kingston (GA), Mark Sanford (SC), and Steve Stockman (TX).

More news! Congress actually passed another bill. In its typical last-minute crisis move, Congress agreed on extending the Highway Trust Fund until next May. The Senate wanted the deadline for the stopgap measure to be December, but the GOP House worried about losing votes if it came up before election. The law will temporarily save 660,000 jobs and at least 6,000 Department of Transportation construction projects.

The GOP doesn’t want to tackle funding for highways because it would require raising taxes, specifically gas taxes. Although a GOP principle is that markets can succeed only if services are paid for by those who use the services, they betrayed that philosophy in this bill. The 18.4-cent tax per gallon hasn’t been increased for 21 years. That tax is 39 percent less than it was in 1993. The GOP opposes new taxes, but they’re unwilling to charge drivers for federal highway spending. The first way to cover road expenditures was to stop Saturday postal delivery, but people balked at this idea.

To get the $11 billion, the GOP members of the House engaged in “pension smoothing,” a scam that allows corporations to underfund their pension systems. Companies can put aside less money to pay for future benefits and thus have to pay more taxes because of their profits. In the future, the same corporations will have to pay less tax, but today’s legislators don’t look at the future. Also not considered in the bill is the fact that the taxpayers will be on the hook to pay employees’ pensions who work for companies with underfunded pensions if they go bankrupt.

In connection with this bill in the House, members passed a rule change that allows only one representative—the Majority Leader or his designee—to bring up a transportation trust fund bill for a vote. As Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) pointed out, House Republicans did the same thing last October to keep the government closed:

“You know, Mr. Speaker, the last time we saw this happen? On the government shutdown. Our Republican colleagues used the same measure to refuse to take up the Senate bill which would have ended the government shutdown. They didn’t want to end it, so they kept it going. That cost the American taxpayer $24 billion–$24 billion in damage to the economy …. The Speaker is not the king, and we should make sure every Member has an opportunity. Thank you Mr. Speaker.”

Van Hollen finished by criticizing House GOP members for complaining about the president exceeding his authority after they shut down democracy in the House.

The Senate succeeded in confirming an ambassador to Russia, but the other 40+ nominees to almost one-fourth of the countries with embassies are still waiting. Part of the failure was the lack of a quorum for the voting. The rest was childish behavior. To paraphrase of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)’s explanation: Democrats restored majority-rule on nomination votes because the GOP abused the filibuster in these cases; Republicans are upset so they’re blocking votes on ambassadors regardless of the damage to the U.S. foreign policy.

Congress also approved $225 million package to replenish Israel’s missile defenses. This brings the total to about $1 billion that the U.S. has given to Israel solely for the Iron Dome, which shoots down Palestinian rockets with about a 90 percent accuracy. This past week the United States supplied Israel with rockets and mortar to replace all the ones killing people in Gaza.

Although Israel did not declare an emergency when it requested the munitions about ten days ago, the country was allowed to access the U.S. stockpile. An official said, “They didn’t ask for it from there but we gave it to them so we could rotate our stocks.” Since then, Israel requested more ammunition from the U.S., but the official didn’t give any details about how much more the U.S. would supply the Israelis.

Before the House left town yesterday, they also passed a few other bills against the people of the United States, but that’s a topic for Monday’s blog. Meanwhile the streets of Washington are a bit emptier, and visitors will have an easier time getting restaurant reservations as 525 legislators have departed the city with their staff for five weeks.

Congress doesn’t plan much work for the rest of the year. Boehner has scheduled only 14 days in session for the next four months. These 14 days won’t be enough time to deal with issues important to the people of the United States: reforming immigration, repairing the country’s infrastructure, preventing corporations from not paying taxes, raising the minimum wage, providing equal pay for equal work, and ending job discrimination against LGBT people.

Another issue is the deadline for the re-authorization of the Export-Import Bank at the end of September. The Ex-Im Bank saves major companies such as Boeing and General tens of billions of dollars because of its below market loans. Former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) could have pushed through its re-authorization, but he resigned from the House after his surprisingly loss in the primary to a Tea Party member. Cantor’s replacement for Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, is far more likely to cave into the Tea Party demands to end this subsidy for big business. Democrats are considering using a re-authorization bill to avert another government shutdown by attaching a stopgap spending measure. This is something to watch in September.

While Congress is gone for five weeks, President Obama has also planned a two-week vacation, the longest of his presidency. The GOP has criticized him for his time off, but George W. Bush took off 367 days during his eight years—almost seven weeks a year. Republicans who want the president to make fewer decisions, according to the lawsuit that the House approved this past week, should be happy that he is gone. More about the lawsuit and other House bills on Monday!

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